It’s definitely a disappointment to have made and nurtured your dough for over 24 hours to cut through and discover a gummy texture of an under-baked loaf.
There are really only 3 ways to know your loaf is cooked without actually cutting it open. Once you have cut it open, there is not much you can do if it is undercooked except perhaps toast slices in a pan and make bruschette.
The Knock Test
Take the loaf out of the oven and turn it upside down, taking it out of the pan if you’re making a sandwich loaf. Give the bottom of the loaf a firm thump! with your knuckles, like knocking on a door. The bread will sound hollow when it’s done.
For bakers new to making bread, you can also “tune” your ear into the expected sound by actually training it. This adds to your bread-baking arsenal we call baker’s instinct. (Not to be confused with a movie starring Sharon Stone.) To tune your ear, toward the end of baking time in the recipe, take the loaf out every 5 minutes and knock to listen to how the sound evolved.
The more you bake, the more you’ll be able to gauge how a loaf of bread should look when it is almost done. Generally the crust should be dry, very firm, and a deep golden-brown colour with darker spots here and there. If the crust is very pale, give it a few more minutes.
The Interal Temperature
Your bread is properly baked when at the centre you get the following reading:
- Standard bread dough (Flour, water salt, oil) 88-90 deg. C
- Enriched dough (added fat, sugar, eggs, vegetable matter) 92-84 deg. C
Insert digital probe thermometer into centre of the loaf. Choose a less obvious spot as an entry point to not leave a little hole for people to see.
If in doubt, 5 more minutes is always better. This is unlikely to burn the crust, and unlikely baking a cake, the crust keeps a lot of moisture in the bread to this won’t dry it out.
Some other important pointers:
You turn the knob on your oven to a number, the red light goes on or it beeps and says I’m ready… but is the set temperature equal to your oven temperature.
If you are consistently having trouble with over- or under-baked loaves, check the temperature of your oven with an oven thermometer.
You may have an oven that is running hot or cold. If these is the case, you have 3 options. Get it fixed, use an oven thermometer and “ignore” the numbers on the dial or adjust your cooking time.
The 4th option is to use it as an excuse to get a new oven.
A big loaf does not necessarily take longer than a small loaf – although it depends what you mean by small and big. A loaf weighing 500 g takes as much time as a loaf weighing a kilo. A loaf weighing 100 g takes less. A loaf weighing 2kg will take about 25% more time than a 1kg loaf.
Bread rolls (usually 100 g or less) take less time than a big loaf and for that reason it is a good idea to bake them at a high temperature in order to make sure they go brown when they are done, and do not stay a pale, dough colour.
For medium to large loaves, it is like cooking a joint of meat or a large bird. The bigger it is, the less it takes per kg.
The ingredients in the dough also affect cooking time and so some kinds of bread take longer to bake (reach the desired internal temperature)
- Enriched doughs with butter, eggs, sugar, chocolate, dried fruit, nuts and so on
- Those with padding such as mashed vegetables, cooked grains, or fruit (these ingredients act almost like insulation inside the dough.
The hollow sound is so important we are mentioning it again.
If your bread is underdone in the middle it cannot have sounded hollow. It must have sounded dull when you tapped it. Next time be brave and leave it in the oven for another 5 minutes at a time until it really does sound hollow.
If you repeatedly think your bread sounds hollow but it is still undercooked it is time to get a new ear or a digital thermometer.
Burning the crust
If your bread is getting too brown, try baking it on a lower shelf in the oven or covering it with aluminium foil part way through the baking process. If you have a sweetener in the bread (honey, sugar, molasses, malt etc) your bread will brown more quickly as the sugar caramelises through the Maillard reaction.
If all else fails, bake it for longer at a lower temperature, but don’t go below 200 deg. C as a general rule of thumb.
Read the Recipe
It may seem like a silly point but most of the time recipes give guidelines and instructions that actually make a difference, even if they see, weird.